As of this writing, during the week of October 22 there have been two sessions of the “Sharing our Stories” series offered on Thursday nights at 7:30pm at the Synod Office. Three Aboriginal speakers have told very moving personal stories about their growing up years, their experience as parents, and their marriage. Each and every speaker shared how the violence and abuse that happened to children at Residential School has deeply affected the entire rest of their lives, and the lives of their children. We also heard from the Diocesan Street Outreach Ministry about the life-changing connections that happen with Aboriginal people in the Downtown Eastside community.
The first week Shelley Joseph, the daughter of Chief Bobby Joseph, spoke about the trauma of growing up as the child of a Residential School survivor who was full of pain and anger, and what she witnessed as a child during her formative years. She talked about how this affected her, and the negative behaviours she learned. She also told us about the moment she realized that the same thing would happen to her baby daughter, and can clearly remember the moment she picked her up and vowed ‘no more.’ Shelley now does community work with “Reconciliation Canada.”
The living stories of violence and abuse are still with us in our community and it is something that will remain for a while. Listening to Shelley and how she was able to overcome these horrific injustices was probably a story that many people have not heard before. The destruction of many families in our urban and rural communities is very real, and our people are still struggling to overcome the effects of residential school, even though they may not have gone there themselves. Children of survivors learned the habits of their parents, as happens in every family, but it was not good teachings that the children were taught. (http://reconciliationcanada.ca/about/team/)
Shelley is a survivor, and so are Joyce and Joe. Joe and Joyce have been married for 50 years now, but their married life was not always a good life for either one of them. Joe came out of Residential School an alcoholic, and his anger from what he endured made him an abusive husband to Joyce and their children. It wasn’t until Joyce took on her own healing and said she had had enough, that Joe finally went for help. As life turned for the better for Joyce and Joe, they recognized that many Indigenous families were also suffering from the same behaviours. Hence the start of “Warriors Against Violence Society.” (website : http://wav-bc.com/home.html)
The speaker who began the second session on October 18 was Fr. Matthew Johnson, the Street Outreach Priest whose ministry is based at St. James’ Church in the Downtown Eastside. He told personal stories about encounters with Aboriginal people in his work and how it affected him talking to survivors of residential school. He spoke about some challenging experiences he has had while wearing his collar on the street and therefore representing all the churches that hurt many of the Aboriginal people in the Downtown Eastside community. But he also told us how touched he has been by the many gestures of respect and reconciliation he has received. (https://stjames.bc.ca/street-outreach)
Though it was emotionally hard to hear all of the speakers, it showed there is hope. Their survival through the darkest times shows us that there are strong people in the Indigenous community. Many stories and hurts are still out there in the Indigenous community, but also resilience and survival by our people.
Reconciliation will not truly occur until the right supports come for our people in the form of counselors and healers. Successful programs like “Reconciliation Canada”, “Warriors Against Violence”, and the “Street Outreach Ministry” need support. We need to visit their programs and find out how we can expand on their work, and add more ideas and supports to these small programs and others that are truly successful.
We have heard Reconciliation in the personal stories we received during those first two weeks of the “Sharing Our Stories” program. Shelley and her Elders never blamed God and the churches. The Elders taught her instead to look at the individual people that had practiced bad behaviour towards our children. We heard about the way Joe and Joyce have transformed the painful and violent legacy of the Residential School system into a life of service to the Aboriginal community. And we see how Fr. Matthew respects and honors the pain of those who have not yet found healing, yet is open to caring relationships with those who are reaching out to the church.
The first step is in Reconciliation is offering our own presence to hear and honour the stories.
All are welcome to the next two sessions of “Sharing our Stories, ” October 25 and November 1, 7:30pm at the Synod Office, 1410 Nanton Avenue.